Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monumental Art

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was recently given the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for a conference for work. I was selected since I serve on the board for the local professional association, but it was still a welcome surprise! One of my best friends lives in the area, and she graciously gave me a tour of some of the city's most popular attractions while I was there. One thing that was on my "must visit" list were the nation's national monuments. 

The above pictured bridge, while not a monument, was the gateway for our informal tour. This beautiful bridge is much younger than it appears. Constructed in 1932, the Arlington Memorial Bridge links Arlington, VA to Washington, DC across the famed Potomac River. The eastern entrance is flanked by two golden Art of War statues, and the bridge itself is decorated with various statues depicting similar themes of bravery and sacrifice. It's stunning!

Our first actual stop on our monumental tour (ha!) was the Lincoln Memorial. This famous monument was completed in 1922 in honor of our nation's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The large Greek temple inspired building houses a 19 foot statue of the honored president himself (who, if standing, would measure a full 28 feet). One of the most popular monuments on the lawn, the building is supported by 36 Doric columns - one for each of the states unionized at the time of Lincoln's presidency. Each state is further inscribed on the building directly above the columns, along with the dates that the state entered the union. The names of the other 48 states (not including Alaska or Hawaii) was added later in the attic above the frieze. 

The Lincoln Memorial has become a popular place for tourists, activists, and filmmakers alike. Most famously, the site is known for being the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech, heard by an audience of approximate 250,000 on August 28, 1963 at the March for Jobs and Freedom during the Civil Rights movement. While I knew about the event, I had no idea the exact spot was marked on the steps leading up to the monument. Luckily, a friendly National Park Service worker pointed it out to my friend and me. Of course, we just had to take our picture standing there! Such an amazing feeling.

From the Lincoln Memorial, we headed down to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial. As the granddaughter of a proud Korean War Veteran (Purple Heart), I was incredibly excited to see this memorial. I fiercely fought back tears as we entered the site - oh, how I wish I had been able to take my grandfather here during his lifetime! The relatively young memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Clinton. The 19 statues pictured above reflect on the black granite immediately south, representing the 38th parallel (or the pre-Korean War boundary between North and South Korea). All branches of the armed forces are represented by the statues.

Sandblasted on the adjacent black granite are faces from over 2,500 pictures of actual people who served during the war. The granite was given a high gloss that serves two purposes - to reflect the 19 soldier statues, mimicking 38 soldiers to represent the 38th parallel, and also to allow visitors to get a glimpse of their own faces as they look into the faces of the men and women who served in the war. When a tour guide told me this during my night tour, it completely changed my perspective on this memorial... but more on that in another post. Overall, I think it was a great memorial to the men and women who fought in the Korean War - I know my grandfather would have been very proud. 

Directly across the reflecting pond stands the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This large, solemn memorial was dedicated in 1982, and was designed by a young architect student (Maya Lin) as part of a national contest. Her design was meant to resemble a gash or large wound in the earth, showing the gravity of the tremendous loss of over 58,000 soldiers to the war. The names of soldiers who perished in the war are etched into the dark, high gloss granite, again allowing visitors to see themselves in the reflection of the gloss as they read the names of the deceased. Again, a moving concept as you reflect on the high cost of war.

The next monument we visited was by far the most humble. Quietly tucked between the trees was a small monument dedicated to DC citizens who fought in World War I. Dedicated by President Hoover in 1931, this was the first war memorial constructed west of the Potomac, and is the only DC-specific monument on the National Mall. Inscribed on the base of this 47 foot monument is the names of each of the 499 DC citizens who lost their lives during World War I. Surprisingly, it is the only monument/memorial dedicated to World War I on the entire mall.

Directly south and in stark contrast to the humble DC World War I monument stands the very large and beautiful National World War II Memorial. Covering an area of just over 7 acres, the World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 by then President George W. Bush. The large pool/fountain in the center is surrounded by 56 large columns, one for each state along with DC, the territories of Hawaii and Alaska, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rice, Guam, American Somoa, and the US Virgin Islands. 

Just west of the pool is what is referred to as the Freedom Wall. This impressive wall contains 4,048 stars - one for every 100 soldiers killed during the war. There's a small plaque that tells you this fact, and I gotta tell you - it's immediately humbling. Freedom is not free, and I thank the men and women who serve our country bravely at every opportunity. (Fun fact: While visiting this monument, keep an eye out for graffiti. Two "Kilroy was here" drawings are etched on to the memorial, an acknowledgment of the symbol's importance to the soldiers who fought bravely during the war. More on "Kilroy" can be read here.)

Our next stop was across the street at what is probably my 2nd favorite national monument - the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial. One amazing fact about this terrific monument is that it is the first memorial to an African American on/near the National Mall, and it was dedicated by the first African American President of the United States (Obama in 2011). While we as a country have a long way to go in the fight for civil rights, I am glad it was constructed and is a truly powerful testament to the civil rights movement. It's construction, however, was not without controversy. Instead of highlighting that here, however, I will just say it is an impressive monument to a truly amazing man. 

To enter the memorial, visitors must pass through a "Mountain of Despair" from which King "emerges" as "Stone of Hope." The mountain is bookended by a crescent of quotes on an inscription wall. Each side contains 7 unique quotes attributed to King (14 total), dated but not put in date order. Many of my favorite quotes of any person are along this wall, and are a tribute to the wisdom that came from King's leadership. Amazing.

Finally, here stands the Washington Monument. At the time of its dedication in 1885, it stood as the tallest structure in the world. It was built to commemorate our nation's first President, George Washington. Until the earthquake of 2011, the monument was open to the public and visitors were permitted to go to observation decks located just below the pyramidion. Sadly, the monument is closed indefinitely due to unspecified damages sustained by the monument during the earthquake. The scaffolding outside the obelisk is actually kind of artful, and it was recently illuminated to showcase it during its repair. Sigh... I wish it had been lit when I visited. Guess I'll have to go back, right? Ha!

While visiting the monuments during the day was a great experience, I also went on a night tour visiting many of the same. For those considering visiting the nations capital, I highly recommend visiting it during both the light of day and the dark of night - the monuments are best viewed in either light. Can't wait to share my night pictures soon!

Until next time...

--- Becks

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